New Partnerships in Ethiopia

Browse Counter Culture’s coffees at any given time of the year and you’ll notice some perennial favorites—like Idido and La Golondrina—alongside some new offerings. We are a company that prides itself on the duration of our sourcing partnerships, because we believe it leads to a sustainable supply of high-quality coffee, but, at the same time, we are always looking for new coffees from new partners. In this post I’ll explain more about why we decide to work with new partners, specifically focusing on Ethiopia.

One of the main reasons we decide to work with new partners is because supply chains or, more specifically, market access is always changing. In places it once was difficult to source traceable coffee or make direct connections with producers, avenues sometimes open. This has particularly been the case in Ethiopia, and these changes have caused us to shift our purchasing strategy. Last year, the government changed the coffee marketing and quality control rules under the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), allowing for the traceable export of coffees from any kind of producer—not just cooperatives—as well as the possibility for smallholder farmers to gain an export license and directly export their own coffee.

Because of these changes, we diversified our Ethiopian coffee portfolio with four types of coffee purchases:

  1. Coffees from privately-owned washing stations, like Rafisa and Yabitu Tome
  2. Coffees from the Yirgacheffe cooperatives from which we have been purchasing consistently since 2010, like Idido
  3. Coffees directly exported by smallholder farms, like Jabanto and Aleme Wako
  4. Coffees from private estates that work with smallholder farms or “outgrowers,” like Dambi Udo and Bishari

Considerations we take when deciding to purchase a coffee include overall quality, transparency, sustainability, uniqueness, and crowd-pleasingness” (will our customers like this coffee?). What specifically sparked changes in our Ethiopian purchasing strategy was a shift in traceability. Previously, coffees from privately-owned washing stations and smallholder farms would have been blended and sold by their region and grade. Now, these entities are able to maintain traceability throughout the export process and/or directly export their own coffee.

Traceability is an important precondition for us in sourcing. You may wonder, as a company focused on quality, why do we care so much about traceability? Because we believe that traceability allows for successes to be shared and repeated with everyone in a supply chain. For example, if we had a major quality issue with a coffee purchased through the pre-2017 ECX, there would have been no avenue for that feedback to reach those farmers, leaving them without the knowledge and opportunity to improve their product. Traceability is not a necessary precursor for quality, but, for us, it’s an important part of securing a future supply of quality coffee.

As demand for specialty coffee continues to grow, new producing markets will continue to emerge, and existing producing markets will continue to evolve. Counter Culture has also grown over the past 23 years. We are excited to grow more and are always on the lookout for great coffees from partners who share our values of quality and sustainability.